I can't really find an antecedent in Mona di Orio's work for Cuir, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. While several di Orio fragrances have been, like Cuir, pretty bold, they were also a lot skankier, creating a series of expectations and biases around the perfumer's work. Nuit Noire dries down to what Orio retailer Luckyscent refers to on its website as "a barnyard-y animalic dirtiness" which wasn't everyone's roll in the hay. Even Carnation and Oiro have more than a whiff of the underbelly to them. Cuir is no less an affront in ways I find appealing, but in an entirely different direction.
I like Nuit Noire very much, and when I read about Cuir, part of the perfumer's Les Nombres d'Or line, I assumed it would be an elaboration of that somewhat notorious fragrance. Given Orio's treatment of the indolic and the overripe, I expected Cuir would be a sort of apogee for her sensibility, a sublimely ferocious, unwashed leather. Cuir isn't unwashed, and it isn't particularly feral. It doesn't seem in keeping with anything else Orio has done--had it come in packaging other than her trademark champagne bottle muselet, I would never have attributed it to her--but it's a fantastically remorseless fragrance, and it bums me out that her reputation for a special brand of skank and an unfairly malicious and dismissive rap from critic Luca Turin might keep people from giving it the time of day.
Cuir doesn't particularly smell much like a leather to me, either; no more than Parfum D'Empire's Cuir Ottoman does, I guess. Luckyscent calls it carnal, and I can understand why. A few months back, I reviewed Incense by Norma Kamali, another arguably carnal scent, if by carnal you mean in part unapologetically robust. Cuir initially reminded me of Incense--the stuff is unmistakably strong--though for all its assertiveness, there's a weirdly unique delicacy to Cuir. When it first goes on, you smell the cardamom and the cade, something close to smoldering spices. The cade isn't so brutal that you can't make out the cardamom, so there's a balance going on there, but a tricky one, and Cuir very nearly tips the scale into overkill. Incense doesn't have that kind of tension. It has a glorious bombast which Cuir shies away from, if only just. It's full throttle, out the gate, and straight to the grave.
Both fragrances are smoky to the extreme. Incense is much more resinous, whereas Cuir smells more like something you'd walk through than on. Supposedly there is opoponax in the mix. Who can smell it, under all that smoke? More immediately apparent is the castoreum, which gives the affair something approaching wet animal hide, rode hard, put up wet, now roasting on a spit. This is really the whole story to Cuir, but this simple constellation of elements is more than enough, telling a bigger, more complex story than fragrances with twice to three times the ingredients.
I love Cuir, and I know it will last me forever. It's sometimes--okay, frequently--too much for me. A little goes a long way, as they say. But what a road that is to go down, even just dipping my feet in it. I believe there's a much needed place for these fragrances, now more than ever, and far too few of them. They adjust one's barometer, demanding of you a certain kind of attention and commitment. They cleanse the palate by overloading the senses. With so many fragrances pandering to lowest common denominators, endlessly dumbing themselves down, seeking shamelessly to be all things to all people, something like Cuir is a handy reminder of the refreshment a willfully difficult scent can provide.